Home » Coral Snake vs King Snake: 7 Key Differences Explained

Coral Snake vs King Snake: 7 Key Differences Explained

The coral snake and the king snake are often subjects of confusion due to their strikingly similar appearances. However, these two species are distinctly different in many aspects, including venom potency, behavior, habitat, and diet.

This detailed comparison aims to explore these differences, offering a clear understanding of each species.

Quick Overview

Coral SnakeKing Snake
SizeTypically 18 to 20 inches, can reach up to 48 inchesAverages 16-20 inches in length
Color PatternRed and yellow bands touchRed and black bands touch
HabitatForested areas, underground burrows or under leavesForests, grasslands, shrublands, deserts
VenomVenomous, neurotoxic venomNon-venomous
DietFrogs, lizards, other snakesLizards, snakes, small mammals
BehaviorReclusive and elusive, avoids confrontationActive, can be aggressive when threatened
LifespanAverage about 7 years in the wildTypically 20 to 30 years


Coral snakes and king snakes both exhibit a colorful pattern of red, black, and yellow bands, but the arrangement of these colors is key to their identification.

Coral snake
Coral snake | source: JasonOndreicka @ iStock.com

Coral snakes have a pattern where the red and yellow bands touch, signaling their venomous nature. The mnemonic “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow” helps in identifying these dangerous snakes.

king snake
king snake | source: animals.sandiegozoo.org

In contrast, king snakes, particularly the scarlet king snake, display a pattern where the red and black bands touch. The saying “Red touch black, venom lack” is a useful guide to distinguish these non-venomous mimics.

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Coral snakes and king snakes have overlapping sizes but with notable differences. Coral snakes typically measure 18 to 20 inches in length, with some species like the Texas coral snake reaching up to 48 inches.

On the other hand, king snakes, such as the scarlet king snake, are generally smaller, averaging 16-20 inches in length.


Eastern Coral Snake
Eastern Coral Snake | source: reptilesmagazine.com

The habitat preferences of coral snakes and king snakes vary distinctly. Coral snakes are often found in forested areas, preferring to burrow underground or beneath leaves. They are primarily located in the southern half of the U.S. and northern Mexico.

King snakes have a broader habitat range, including forests, grasslands, shrublands, and deserts across North America, showcasing their adaptability to different environments.


The difference in venom between coral snakes and king snakes is significant. Coral snakes are venomous, possessing neurotoxic venom that can be life-threatening.

In contrast, king snakes are non-venomous and pose no venomous threat to humans.


Coral snakes and king snakes have different diets and hunting methods. Coral snakes feed on frogs, lizards, and other snakes, using their venom to paralyze and subdue their prey.

King snakes, being constrictors, primarily consume lizards, snakes, and small mammals, using constriction to subdue their prey.


In terms of behavior, coral snakes are more reclusive and elusive, often avoiding confrontation. King snakes are known for being more active and can be aggressive when threatened, displaying a more assertive presence in their environment.


The lifespan of these two snake species also differs. Coral snakes have a shorter average lifespan of about 7 years in the wild.

In contrast, king snakes typically enjoy a longer lifespan, ranging from 20 to 30 years, reflecting their adaptability and resilience in various environments.


Understanding the differences between coral snakes and king snakes is crucial for both safety and wildlife appreciation. While they may appear similar, their venom, behavior, diet, and habitat set them apart significantly. Both species play important roles in their respective ecosystems, contributing to the biodiversity and ecological balance of their habitats.


How can you tell a coral snake from a king snake?

The key difference is in their color pattern. Coral snakes have red and yellow bands that touch, while king snakes have red and black bands that touch.

Are coral snakes more dangerous than king snakes?

Yes, coral snakes are venomous and have neurotoxic venom, making them more dangerous. King snakes are non-venomous and pose no venomous threat to humans.

Where do coral snakes and king snakes typically live?

Coral snakes are often found in forested areas, preferring underground burrows or beneath leaves. King snakes inhabit a variety of environments, including forests, grasslands, shrublands, and deserts.

Can a king snake kill a coral snake?

Yes, king snakes are known to prey on other snakes, including venomous species like coral snakes, due to their immunity to snake venom.

How long do coral snakes and king snakes live?

Coral snakes have a shorter lifespan, averaging about 7 years in the wild, while king snakes can live for 20 to 30 years.

What is the significance of the color patterns in coral snakes and king snakes?

The color patterns serve as a warning in coral snakes, indicating their venomous nature. In king snakes, the similar pattern is a form of Batesian mimicry, deterring predators by imitating the venomous coral snake.

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